1) Scientists, with a crapton of data, interpret results to the best of their ability.
2) Scientists report results, with caveats, to Country.
3) Country reported results to Public, (possibly without caveats) in an effort to "look good".
4) Public ignored caveats (if given), took Scientists words as absolute proof.
5) Public ignored Common Sense during what must have been a major seismic event, and instead of blaming themselves, blame the Scientists.
Oh, what a demon Science hath wrought.
Asking for certainty in areas where it can't be mathematically guaranteed is extremely expensive.
Not to forget, making money from it, or, at least, bringing money to the associated laboratories or doctors.
Also earthquake predictions are discouraged since false positives can have huge adverse economic impact (people and businesses fleeing the region) the best way to prepare for an earthquake for a community is to build good safe earthquake resistant houses rather than blaming scientists for not predicting some inherently random phenomenon.
Consider that millions of Americans use public roadways every year at the cost of 30K fatalities.
I wonder if the politicians made the correct economic decision but the wrong ethical decision?
It may also help you knowing that the main man behind this accusations is Guido Bertolaso. He is very close to Berlusconi's government and got his own, more serious, legal troubles having to do with bribes after constructions in disastered area and prostitution. As usual, things in Italy are more complicated than what it may look.
Edit: adding this link http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article70...
(My opinion is that the congress was just a 'public relations' thing to 'reassure' people. The words "the scientific community tells me there is no danger", served, very likely, as an excuse for the 'politicians' to do nothing in order to prevent risks [because of the typical italian cynicism, I can't assure they were not aware of the misuse of their words.]
Please note that after the earthquake the public debate was focused on the stupid problem of 'prediction of earthquakes'. Yes we can't predict earthquakes, but we can predict the effect and take measures in order to prevent risks. And it is clear that nothing was done.)
[Excuse me for my bad english.]
while the scientists were probably correct that the earthquake warnings were not justified, it turns out that the prediction was vaguely correct (iirc the time was off by long enough that evacuations would have been impractical).
[edit: radon, not argon - http://articles.latimes.com/2009/apr/07/local/me-quake-predi... - and he didn't have the correct location or time, but was close]
For an Italian city, that's fairly recent, actually!
In the wake of that travesty, Louis XIV didn't have a hard time convincing Cassini to abandon his post in Bologna and emigrate to France, where he could continue his work safely. Given the extraordinary military advantage conveyed by Cassini's work in improving cartography through increasingly sophisticated astronomical observation, the Netherlands and England were quick to join the seventeenth-century's war for technical talent.
Not grasping the extent to which the world was passing it by, the Papacy kept Galileo's works on the list of banned books until the mid-nineteenth century. By the time they came off, Italy's once formidable lead had been squandered permanently.
File this current fiasco under 'lessons not learned'.
There was no "Italy" at that point. Galileo spent "the happiest years of his life" here in Padova, where he was given pretty much free reign by the Republic of Venice to do what he wanted because they were not nearly so much under the influence of the church, which was, and and still is a problematic influence on Italian society.
This is another "wtf" science story in Italy that's still quite current:
The pope said (rightly so) that unless Cassini could offer proof as to the cause of planets allegedly circling the sun, he should present both the Copernicus and Ptolemy model and leave it up to the reader to make up his mind. (He couldn't prove it because the theory of gravitation was not known at the time)
Instead, Galileo tricked a priest into printing his book without a papal seal of approval, after he had promised the pope that he would present the Copernicus model as a hypothesis and not as proven fact.
So, in this case, the church was on the side of the scientific method. You don't just assert something extraordinary without some extraordinary evidence to back it up.
So, in this case, the church was on the side of the scientific method.
I find it hard to believe that the Catholic Church then was a proponent of scientific method and would have accepted Galileo's theories if only he'd had evidence.
Even now the Catholic Church (and other religions) do not follow empirical experimentalism. They ignore what the scientific method tells them if it disagrees with their beliefs and dogma. Creationism is a common example amount protestant churches, but the Catholic Church still maintains that a healthy sexuality is unhealthy, that homosexual sexual activity is unhealthy, and that condoms don't work in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
To a scientists, "proof" means 'an experiment that I can repeat that confirms this data', to the catholic church (and many other religions), "proof" can include things you read in your holy book. How could Galileo "proof" his theories to their satisfaction?
Pope Urban VIII had at one point actually encouraged Galileo's teachings, but Galileo himself was known to be arrogant and headstrong, having little patience for bureaucracy, and virtually no tact when dealing with others, especially if they disagreed with him.
There are a number of ways Galileo could have approached things:
1. Present both the Ptolemy and Copernicus models, along with the arguments for each.
2. Delay publication until he could build a fully working model, rather than a series of observations and assertions.
3. Defy authority, fraudulently publish, and damn the ignorant fools in power.
Option 1 would have been the best approach, as it would be the least jarring to established knowledge and would provide a wedge for new ideas.
Option 2 would likely stir up controversy at a later date, but would not involve insubordination.
Option 3 was pretty much guaranteed to blow up, much like an employee directly disobeying his boss to his face. Even if he and the pope had been the bestest of buds, there would have been no way politically for the pope to ignore his behavior. (As it was, the pope flew into a rage when he found out that Galileo had published behind his back)
Presenting both theories just sounds like modern creationist "Teach both theories", i.e. a load of rubbish.
The existing authority will not accept new theories replacing the old until VERY compelling evidence has been brought forth (this happens even today in the secular world, and that's a GOOD thing).
Creationism will have a very hard time displacing the existing accepted scientific body of theory and evidence, as has been seen by their constant failures in the past. But sneaking it in under the radar by "presenting both theories" has gained them more traction than any other strategy they've attempted so far.
What the pope was telling Galileo to do was, in effect, the same thing. Sneak the idea in on the coattails of established "truth", and then it'll be a lot easier to embellish it to fullness later.
So I retract my previous statement that the church was on the side of scientific inquiry. In fact, both cases involve intellectual fraud, in that an idea is not allowed to stand on its own merits, but rather requires political machinations in order to be injected into society at large (but then again, when was that ever not the case?). The only difference is that Galileo's teachings were actually true, and creationism is actually false, but we only have that knowledge with the benefit of hindsight.
For what it's worth, Galileo made two critical observations with his telescope - specifically, his discoveries of the Jovian moons and the phases of Venus. The former demonstrated that the universe contained more than one center of gravity. This served as a fundamental contradiction of the Aristotelian metaphysics that anchored the Ptolemaic scheme, and which the Church had, by then, adopted as canonical. The latter phenomena made no sense in the context of a terracentric cosmos, but was perfectly consistent with a heliocentric model.
In other words, Galileo was not "saying that he was right and everyone else was wrong and they should just believe him because he was right." Rather, he was offering observational proof of the Copernican theory. His own theories about gravity, and specifically, WHY there could be multiple centers were - at this stage - irrelevant. The mere fact of these other centers' existence was enough to upset the intellectual status quo.
Indeed, the real bone of contention had nothing to do with the Church insisting on evidence in support of theory. The evidence was right in front of them. The problem was the inconsistency formed between the the revelation that Earth is a orbiting planet, and the (repeated) Biblical assertions that it wasn't. For instance, “He has fixed the earth firm, immovable.” (1 Chronicles 16:30), “Thou hast fixed the earth immovable and firm ...” (Psalm 93:1), “He has fixed the earth firm, immovable ...” (Psalm 96:10), “...who made the earth and fashioned it, and himself fixed it fast...” (Isaiah 45:18), etc. The obvious solution - a concession that the Bible made heavy use of metaphor, and should not be taken literally - presented intractable political problems for an institution that had amassed formidable power around interpretations that treated large amounts of the Bible as actual history.
Really, the notion that "the church was on the side of the scientific method" could not be further from the truth - not least of all because the scientific method depends on the freedom of consciousness, and the ability to change one's mind based on observable reality - regardless of contrary views based on scripture, fiat, or tradition. This degree of liberty was - quite literally - anathema to an institution that claimed something approaching a property right in the laity's souls. To say they were supporting it is flatly absurd.
I don't say that as an apologist. I really feel like there is nothing to defend here. Mankind's belief system impeded and advanced the acquisition of scientific knowledge in various ways. For instance, I'd argue that the reformation was the biggest thing to happen to science, encouraging individuals to see and prove things for themselves.
I was just taking issue with not having enough context. Yes, the big picture is Galileo had a hard time of it. But all the little details -- the personality issues, the issues of evidence, the way his work was constructed, the way knowledge was generally gathered and advancements made at the time, etc. -- to me those are the juiciest parts of the story. Gives it a wonderful 3-D feel. To tell it like a comic book from the 21st century where the church is evil and Galileo was some kind of uber-hero is to commit a crime against the joy of history, in my opinion. It's a much more enjoyable story than that, and I'm not sure the listener of the comic book version really understands what was going on from this version of the telling. To be more blunt, and speaking as an agnostic and non-religious person, it sounds a bit more like anti-church propaganda instead of an honest look at how people lived. Listening to the apologist doesn't put me on the church's side by any means, but it sure makes the whole thing into a hell of a better story.
One might be inclined to believe that Louis XIV was acting as a benefactor when he invited Cassini to France, but in reality he was using it as yet another wedge against the papacy (along with other things such as the Declaration of the Clergy of France) in order to secure more power for himself in France.
Freedom of expression is all about the political climate you find yourself in, and the successful disruptor is he who takes this into account when planning his campaign.
There is a time and place for defiance. Get it wrong, and your cause can be set back years, decades, perhaps even centuries.
Galileo's defiance and life under house arrest would have been but a footnote in history had king Louis not extended his invitation to Cassini, and that would not have happened had Louis not considered himself strong enough to defy Rome, and he would not have even cared to defy Rome had Rome not held such a stranglehold on the appointment of priests in Europe. So even though Galileo was foolhardy and naive, it turned out alright due to political circumstances that he never even considered. It was a massive risk to the future of science that Galileo didn't even consider, but had he taken a more temperate approach and bided his time for a better opportunity, none of this would even have been necessary. There are many more cases of idealists who were not so lucky.
This is not about how the world "ought to be", but rather the way things are (and, in fact, always have been).
I believe that the purely scientific advisors will be cleared at the end, but bringing everyone to trial is inevitable as the firt step. ("inevitable" in standard italian judiciary practice, that is).
I bet there won't be very many seismological press conferences in the near future.
<scientist> There is a low probability of a
<politician> Scientists assure me that you
are all completely safe
Scientists are often asked the wrong question, which is 'when will the next earthquake hit?' The right question is 'how do we make sure it won't kill so many people when it hits?'
We're so focused on always looking for a scapegoat when something goes wrong that the only way to pre-empt potential persecution (either by the mob or the press or the justice system or whoever) is to always cover your ass, regardless of what the actual risk analysis tells you. Warning against events like terrorist attacks and earthquakes is a win/win: if they do occur, you're the heroic prophet who saw it all coming. If they don't, no one will call you out on needlessly spending large amounts of money on their prevention.
There is quite a bit of precedent for this kind of reasoning. For examples, see Blair's role in the invasion of Iraq (45 minutes, remember?) and the United States' Homeland Security Advisory System (never lower than "Elevated"). And did anyone get nailed to the metaphorical cross for the enormous sums of money flushed down the toilet to protect against Y2K?
To dismiss this as a uniquely Italian issue, as many of my fellow HN'ers seem to be doing, is a failure to see the wider picture. Don't kid yourself, this happens everywhere.
So while it might be fun to imagine us italians running with our pitchforks after a bunch of lab-rats to burn them at the stake for their failure at quake-prediction, what's really happening is that a prosecutor has doubts about the “quality” of work of some people paid lotsa public money to be part of a committee whose task was to assess seismic risks for that area at that time. Was the risk assessed correctly or not?
And if not, why?
Note how (http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100622/full/465992a.html) nobody is willing to take responsibility for the reassuring statements that in the end convinced the otherwise alarmed population to stay at home. The scientists say that the meeting was too short to consider all the data, while the civil protection agency responds to them that they should have not waited six months to object to that.
An aside: back in 2009, before and after the quake, there was one guy claiming to be able to foresee when and where earthquakes would strike with a certain precision by measuring radon emissions. Except the quake he foresaw a week earlier nearby L'Aquila never happened, and after the big one caused 300 deaths, he went on record saying to have foreseen it by something like 6 to 24 hours, depending on which interview. He became somewhat popular at the time, and probably still is, to the point that the public opinion might be left with the notion that quakes can indeed be foreseen - this trial might not be that bad thing for science after all.
Which is great, because the average person can just look at the seismic data each morning and decide for themselves. Right after they sift through the weather data to see if any tornados might have swung by while they were sleeping.
Was that a misquote, or what the seismologists actually said? Their position is a little more shaky (ha, ha) if they said there is NO danger
It seems like the committee contained 6 geophysicists who reported to a civil defense bureaucrat (who has a PhD in Fluid Mechanics - think Civil Engineering). The geophysicists said the standard things ("we can't rule it out").
Then these deliberations were summarized by the bureaucrat for the press conference, which the geophysicists did not attend, as (presumably in Italian ;-):
"The scientific community tells us there is no danger, because there is an ongoing discharge of energy. The situation looks favorable."
And there's your trouble spot.
It is wrong to misrepresent appropriately-hedged claims where life and limb are at stake. It should be a scandal.
And incidentally, this is why it's really hard to be the technical person who stands in front of the press conference. Doing it well is a gift.
The charges were originally filed over a year ago. The news now is that, after procedural delays, the judge succumbed to idiocy and actually let them go to court.
Just saying ;)
I suspect you're trollan, but I figure there's no such thing as "too safe".